PFF Preview: Panthers @ Falcons, Week 17

In what has become the 2014 NFC South championship game, Bryson Vesnaver writes that a rookie Carolina corner will be counted on to slow down the Falcons' Julio Jones.

| 2 years ago

PFF Preview: Panthers @ Falcons, Week 17

2014-Prev-WK17-CAR@ATLThree weeks ago, the Carolina Panthers were 3-8-1 and hadn’t won a game in two months. But thanks to a strange season for the NFC South, they weren’t out of the division race yet. They’ve rattled off three straight wins, and now will travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons for the division title. While Atlanta has only won six games all year, they are unbeaten within the division. All of this should make for an exciting meeting to decide the NFC’s final playoff team.

For the Panthers to host a playoff game next week, they’re going to have to figure out a way to slow down Falcons’ all-world receiver Julio Jones. Since Week 11, no receiver has had a better grade than Jones’ +14.3, and he missed an entire game in that time. His 3.44 Yards Per Route Run in that same time is the second-highest mark among receivers. Jones has been near unstoppable and can often single-handedly change the outcome of a game.

The Panthers will likely counter with rookie corner Bené Benwikere, who has been having a fantastic end to the season. Since taking over as a starter in Week 13, no corner in the entire league has posted a better coverage grade than Benwikere’s +7.8. The longest completion he’s allowed has been only 16 yards and receivers only average 4 yards after the catch when covered by him. While it might be asking a lot of a fifth-round rookie corner to cover someone as talented as Jones, the Panthers should feel confident that Benwikere can at least limit big plays from Jones. That alone will go a long way in helping the Panthers come away with a victory on Sunday.

Here are three other players from each team to watch for:

Carolina Panthers

Luke Kuechly – His +26.7 overall grade is the second-highest among all inside linebackers.

Greg Olsen – His 1.89 Yards Per Route Run is the third-highest mark in the league among tight ends.

Thomas Davis – His coverage grade of +11.3 is the highest among all 4-3 outside linebackers and his +6.7 pass rush grade is fourth-highest.

Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan – His 94.9 PFF QB rating is the fourth-highest this season, and his Deep Passing Accuracy Percentage of 56.7% is the highest.

Desmond Trufant – Has a +13.7 overall grade and a +9.6 coverage grade, sixth- and seventh-best among corners, respectively.

Ryan Schrader – Allowed only six total QB pressures over the last five weeks, giving him a fifth-best 97.9 Pass Blocking Efficiency among tackles in that time.

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| Analyst

Bryson has been an analyst at Pro Football Focus since 2014, and has also been a contributor to 120 Sports.

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